Young people highlighted the importance of the government meaningfully embedding youth voices across all its work, at all stages. Young people called on us to value their lived experience and reach out to them in their spaces. They asked us to involve them as genuine collaborators and decision-makers to create better outcomes across policies and programs.
They want to know what government is doing for them and how they can get involved. Information that’s easy to understand and delivered through young people’s preferred formats will help them stay informed and be active citizens.
We heard that the community, government and organisations have a strong role to play giving young people power to make decisions. Currently, young people are often, only given the responsibility to educate, raise awareness and advocate on systems and structures that they’ve inherited and cannot influence. We’ve seen young people united as change-makers through their advocacy for intergenerational equity–on climate change and many other important issues for our state, and our globe. But this commitment can also wear young people down when they are constantly asked for their voices and solutions without their work resulting in genuine change.
Young people want to see a greater focus on mental health
Mental health is the top issue for young people. They want age-appropriate, accessible and culturally safe services that understand and respond to their diverse identities. They want to get help when they need it and action to break down stigmas around mental illness. They want services that can help prevent them from reaching crisis mode and recognition of the everyday impacts of anxiety and loneliness. Young people want services that look at their whole-of-life circumstances and understand that mental ill-health affects nearly every aspect of their life. The coronavirus pandemic has affected many young people’s mental health. Because young people are more connected virtually than ever before, issues such as online bullying and climate anxiety can feel relentless.
‘A perfect Victoria is where young people feel safe and included.’
– Refugee and migrant youth forum participant
Young people want financial stability
Financial stability, access to opportunities and inclusivity are core issues. They are deeply interconnected with all aspects of a young person’s life, including socioeconomic status, poverty, family, housing, mental health, wellbeing and social and community networks.
Young people know that education, training and employment are the keys to building independence and financial stability. They want education that responds to their individual needs as learners. They also want the life skills they need to feel confident in their transition to independence. Young people want access to a variety of education and career options that help them find the path that suits them. Entering the workforce is highly competitive and young people are finding it hard to compete with others who have more experience. They are calling for support to enter the workforce.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected young people’s financial stability, which is impacting on their ability to access stable housing that they can afford. Young people living in rural and regional Victoria spoke about their desire to stay in their region and that they shouldn’t have to move away from home to find opportunities. They want more avenues to celebrate and build their talents in their local communities and transport options that get them where they need to be.
Young people want everyone to feel safe, valued and supported
Young people who have experience with family violence, homelessness or contact with the justice system, or the out-of-home care system, told us that they need accessible supports and information that recognise the weight of their trauma and complex experiences, and respect their agency as individuals. These young people want support to help them get back on their feet. They called for transformation at the highest levels of decision making to address structures that create disadvantage and improve their safety.
Young people want accessibility and inclusivity built into our policies and programs as a core design principle–not as an afterthought. Young people experience barriers and discrimination in schools, training and higher education, services and workplaces. Barriers like colonialism and dispossession, ageism, racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia are just a few examples highlighted by young people. How young people experience discrimination is shaped by their unique identities and lived experience.
We repeatedly heard young people’s desire to live in a Victoria that truly understands and appreciates cultural diversity and does not limit people based on stereotypes or assumptions. They want to see themselves depicted positively in the media and recognised for their contributions.
‘Equality is important to me because everyone deserves to be equal and shouldn’t live a poorer life because of the way they were born.’
– Survey respondent, 12–15 years old
‘Young people feel like their voices are heard and their opinions valid. Youth have an active role in policies that impact them and are not tokenistic.
– Refugee and migrant youth forum participant
Young people want more support for their struggling families
Young people start to explore the world through the perspective of their families, particularly in early adolescence. This means we need to support young people and consider them in the context of their families. Many young people spoke about the value of family and its influence in shaping their values and behaviours throughout their life. An absence of a strong family connection was also highlighted as a key issue for some young people. This included the impacts of negative behaviours from parents or other family members and the ongoing trauma that occurs when family members cannot get the support they need.
Young people want well-designed, developmentally informed services
Finally, young people and the youth sector told us we need to focus on smooth service delivery that is backed by investment. They want a focus on prevention and early intervention. Stepping in early reduces the likelihood of barriers and trauma in a young person’s life.
This means considering expanding what we mean when we refer to ‘young people’, which typically includes those aged 12 to 25 years old. We heard that we need to bridge the gap for people aged 10 to 12 years old. Targeted, age-appropriate services for this younger age group will give them a head start as they move into adolescence and prepare to move into secondary school. It will also ensure services respond better to young people who have faced multiple barriers and challenges during childhood.
While references to ‘young people’ in this strategy relate to people aged 12 to 25 years old, Our promise, Your future commits to doing further work to better understand what the Victorian Government’s definition of ‘young person’ should be.
‘I would want spaces to be more inclusive, and for mental health issues to be accepted as a valid health concern and not a myth or excuse. I would want more spaces available for young people to go to if they need an escape from a situation where they feel unsafe.’
– Survey respondent, 19–21 years old
There are important points of difference for young people who experience marginalisation
Although common experiences exist, some groups of young people come up against specific barriers and challenges. This strategy recognises that young people’s identities are layered and complex, and cannot be explained by single categories such as gender, race or sexual orientation. While we mention specific groups of young people in this section, we understand that every young person’s experience is uniquely shaped by multiple interconnected structures that create and maintain systems of inequality that marginalise and disadvantage some young people.
‘… young people’s meaningful participation in decision making and shaping the policies and influences that affect our lives. We should be involved in the planning, delivery and evaluation of all policies and projects that impact us.
– Survey respondent, 22–25 years old
Aboriginal young people
Self-determination needs to be at the foundation of everything we do with Aboriginal young people. Aboriginal young people want policies and programs that help build their connection to Country and support them to be proud and strong. They are exhausted from being asked for their ideas, sometimes without any tangible result. Without their participation in design, rollout and evaluation, programs will not meet their needs. Aboriginal young people told us they need culturally safe, strengths-based information and prevention and early intervention supports. They want Aboriginal services such as Aboriginal community-controlled organisations that recognise their complex challenges and celebrate their identities to provide these supports.
LGBTIQ+ young people
LGBTIQ+ young people need to feel safe and supported within communities, particularly at school, TAFE and university. Many LGBTIQ+ young people take on the role of educator – teaching their communities how to be aware and inclusive of all identities. They need healthcare services that meet their needs and health professionals who understand how to support LGBTIQ+ young people, particularly, trans and gender diverse young people and young people with intersex variations.
Disabled young people
Disabled young people told us that we must continue to challenge community attitudes towards disability. Access and inclusion remain the key issues because they are enablers in all aspects of disabled young people’s lives including work, housing, infrastructure and education. Disabled young people want transport they can use, support to develop life skills, and safe and accessible health care.
Multicultural and multifaith young people
Multicultural and multifaith young people told us they want to feel proud of their cultural identity and welcomed in all parts of Victorian society. Too often they feel the burden to bridge the gap between their communities and mainstream services. International students, refugees, migrant young people, and young people seeking asylum want to feel welcome in Victoria regardless of their mode of arrival or visa status and have access to secure work and to safe and affordable services. Many young people experience overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation. It is crucial that we understand and respond to all aspects of a young person’s identity and culture.
‘Teaching young people the life and functional skills that they’ll need for their entire lives needs to be the priority, so that they can manage life, stress, bullying, etc. better.’
– Survey respondent